Iain Duncan Smith calls for ‘wholesale reform’ to help safeguard gamblers

Sir Iain Duncan Smith's think tank, the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ), has called for ‘wholesale reform’ to help safeguard gamblers.
Image source: Stefan Rousseau/PA Archive/PA Images

The Centre for Social Justice (CSJ), a think tank led by senior conservative Sir Iain Duncan Smith, has called for the creation of an independent ombudsman to monitor banks and betting firms with the purpose of better safeguarding players.

A CSJ study entitled ‘Not a Game’ found that problem gamblers generate 25% of the UK betting and gaming industry’s profits, but they are only 0.8% of the total population.

The research also found that regular gamblers were six times more likely to bet online during the pandemic than before, with regular male gamblers in particular highlighted as more likely to wager during COVID-19 lockdowns when compared to pre-pandemic levels.

Citing the report, the CSJ proposes that banks should maintain a duty of care to share financial information with an appointed gambling ombudsman that would quantify the level of risk faced by a customer.

Supported by Labour MP and Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group of Gambling Related Harm (APPG GRH) Carolyn Harris, the report argues that technological developments have made gambling more accessible as well as increasing the betting’s influence over individuals’ behaviour.

Smith remarked: “The gambling industry now poses a very real threat to our communities and the time has come to get a hold on this pernicious addiction which has such a strong connection to social problems, including drug and alcohol addiction, debt, family breakdown and crime.

“Only wholesale reform can meet the scale of the challenge posed by the well-engineered and sophisticated practices of the gambling industry to recruit and retain their customers.”

Referring to the study, the CSJ has called for a range of new measures to be implemented, affecting both banks and betting operators to improve player safeguarding procedures.

This includes the establishment of a new ombudsman, with powers to order betting firms to slow the pace at which a gambler can play, as well as reduce stakes and refuse to accept any wagers for a limited time.

The ombudsman would also enforce greater compliance in the banking centre with regards to gambling, placing the financial institutions under a legal duty of care to prevent problem gamblers from spending money they cannot afford.

Smith continued: “We call for a model that uses a strong independent ombudsman to analyse essential banking data to identify those in need of support and protection from gambling-related harm.

“With the ombudsman’s intervention, we can protect the fundamental rights of individuals to express personal and financial agency, while achieving necessary levels of protection to people and their families heading for financial exclusion and serious harm as a result of their gambling.

“This is, I believe, a very conservative action to take and one which would help those in the poorest communities enormously.”

Before the government launched its review of the 2005 Gambling Act, Smith criticised the UK Gambling Commission’s (UKGC) governing of the gambling sector, stating the regulator’s policy outcomes had been influenced by operators.

Smith joined fellow APPG GRG members in calling for the UKGC to be axed and replaced with a new regulatory body charged with independently monitoring UK gambling. He also stated that UK society could not support a gambling sector that grows its profits exponentially from those who are most addicted.